Part Seventeen

Dara stood at the curtains, looking down on the street below as she waited for Hope to finish in the bathroom. After their frantic rush back to the penthouse, Hope was still visibly shaken. Dara suggested that the teenager take a warm bath and change into more comfortable clothes. Hope complied but only if Dara would stay in the room with her. When Sonny tried to approach her, Hope tore up the staircase.

Sonny was clearly saddened by Hope's response to him. Dara didn't know what to say so she asked him to leave. He protested at first. In reply, Dara promised to call him as soon as Hope was ready to see him. Those words got through to him and he left. Sadly, but he left.

The bathroom door creaked open. "You shouldn't stand in the window," Hope said, her voice quiet but urgent.

Dara turned to face her daughter. "How was your bath? Do you feel better?"

"It was okay," the girl replied. She moved past Dara and firmly pulled the curtains close. As the room became shrouded in darkness, Hope took Dara's hand and pulled her away from the window and toward the foot of the bed. Hope crawled under the covers and hugged her knees to her chest. "You're not gonna leave now, are you?"

"No." Dara shook her head. She sat on the side of the bed and patted Hope's knee. "I'll stay as long as you like. Wanna talk about what happened?"

Hope's bottom lip trembled. "Not especially."

"We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

"Weren't you scared?"

Dara chose not to lie. "Yes."

"He wasn't," Hope said, frowning. "He's used to it. How can anyone get used to being shot at?"

"I doubt if Sonny likes it--"

"Why are you defending him?" Hope asked. "Do you love him?"

Dara's mouth dropped open. She expected a heart-to-heart, but nothing along these lines. Talk about treading on dangerous ground. This conversation had the potential of being as hazardous as their simple shopping trip.

"Did you love him when you got pregnant with me?" Hope asked when Dara didn't immediately answer.

Inwardly, Dara sighed with relief. This was an easier question to deal with. "Yes, I loved him then."

"Did you trust him?" Hope asked. "Seeing you two now, I can't imagine you together. I know you didn't want me--"

"There was never a day when your father and I didn't want you," Dara said. "We didn't plan to get pregnant, but when we knew, we planned to be a family. Hope, please, don't ever believe you weren't wanted. Baby, you were. We both wanted you so much. We still do."

Hope rolled into a reclining position on the bed. Curling on her side, she maintained eye contact with Dara and asked, "Do you love him now?"

Back to this again. Dara didn't try to change the subject. "I'm not in love with him, but because of you, a part of me will always care about him."

"Does he love you?"

"I don't know how he feels about me," Dara answered honestly. "My relationship with Sonny is complicated. I would guess that a part of him still cares about me, too, but in all honesty, what he and I feel about each other isn't as important as how much we both love you."

Hope averted her eyes and began to pluck at the comforter. One of the girl's many walls was resurrecting itself. Dara didn't want that to happen. They'd made too much progress for them to start over again.

"He loves you, Hope. You shouldn't doubt that."

"People die because of him," the girl mumbled. "I was scared. I'm still scared."

"I know, baby." Dara reached out and smoothed hair away from her daughter's full cheek. "You don't have to be scared of him, though. I know things are all mixed up right now. You don't really know us, but you've been willing to give us a chance... We want to do right by you, and to be honest, I'm not sure he and I even know what that is. Do you? What do you want?"

"I don't want to be scared anymore," Hope whispered hoarsely. She glanced at Dara and her eyes were filled with unshed tears.

When the sobs overtook Hope, Dara was ready with her arms wide open. Hope held on tight and poured out her heart on Dara's shoulders. Dara couldn't believe that someone Hope's size could produce so many tears. Her heart ached for Hope's pain and confusion. She wished she had answers for her daughter, but how? Dara didn't understand Sonny's ties to the mob anymore than Hope did. How could he live a life that put his every breath at risk?

One thing was for certain. As soon as possible, they would have to come to an arrangement for Hope. Today was a close call. She didn't want her daughter to ever experience anything like that again. Never again.

# # #

"The games end today!" Lois declared after storming into Ned's office at ELQ. His secretary raced in fast on Lois' heels but after one withering glance, the woman left and closed the door behind her.

"You always were one for drama," Ned said, dryly.

"Oh, grow up," she spat.

He returned her glare, a faint smirk adorning his mouth. Lois wanted to smack it from his face.

"I'm a busy man, Lois," he said, leaning back in his leather chair. "Why are you here?"

"I'm here because I'm tired of you," she countered. "I'm tired of you using BrookLynne as a pawn in her petty competition with Justus. Whatever issues you have with your cousin does not involve my daughter and if you use her again, I'm going back to the courts to readjust your visitation schedule."

"You wouldn't," he bit out. "You're no match against--"

"Your family's money?" she asked with a humorless chuckle. "Please, Ned. The last thing you want to do is bring your family into it."

A muscle flickered angrily at his jaw. He grabbed a pen and tapped it rapidly against the desktop.

After a few moments of tense silence, Lois' ire faded. Given his family history and eccentric behavior, she couldn't totally fault him. It was a given that he'd behave the way he did, but she couldn't help but wish that he'd change. And realize what a precious gift their little girl was. BrookLynne wasn't someone they needed to fight over. She was someone they needed to love.

"Justus and I are happy together and there's nothing you can do about it," Lois said not unkindly. "Dropping BrookLynne off like that hurts her more than you can imagine. She didn't understand why her daddy brought her back so early. If you keep it up, she's gonna believe you don't love her--"

"I do love her," he argued. "Don't try to turn my daughter against me."

"If she turns against you, it won't be because of me, Ned," Lois said. "You and Tracy barely have a relationship. Do you want the same to happen with you and BrookLynne? Think about it."

She headed to the door.

"Why Justus?" he asked just as she was about to turn the doorknob.

Lois paused and moved to face him. "I don't know. He was always a good friend and then something happened. Something wonderful and right. Why?"

"Could we have worked things out if it wasn't for him?"

Oh, she thought, the real truth finally comes out.

She shook her head. "No. I want you to be happy, Ned. We wouldn't have made each other happy. Not in the long run."

"Lois," he called out when she reached for the doorknob again. "I'll pick BrookLynne up from kindergarten today. I want her to spend the rest of the week with me."

Lois smiled. It wasn't much, but it was a step. "Okay. I know she'll like that."

# # #

It was only a car backfiring.

Reynaldo's report echoed in Sonny's head. He couldn't believe it. A backfiring car would be the cause of his daughter pulling away from him forever. If that wasn't the stupidest--

"Michael."

He turned to find Mike had entered the penthouse. His father had a medium-sized bag in his hand and an agitated look on his face. What now? Sonny wondered.

"You okay?" Mike asked, crossing to stand in front of Sonny. "You look like hell."

"I feel like it. Look, if you're here to see Hope, she's resting. I should have called you. Sorry."

"No, it's okay. I would have come over anyway," Mike informed him. He glanced at his watch. "It's late for a nap, isn't it?"

"She had a rough day," Sonny confessed. "Dara thought it would be best if Hope took a break. They're over at Jason's. You can wait if you want."

He offered the invitation in an offhand gesture, went to the sofa and plopped down. He couldn’t get past the fear in Hope's eyes as she shied away from him. They'd grown closer that morning making breakfast together, and now, through no fault of his own, all that progress was null and void. Sonny was so frustrated that he could cry.

"I'll wait," Mike said, shrugging off his jacket. "I wanted to talk to you."

"Mike, I'm not in the mood right now--"

"It's about Jason," Mike interrupted.

"What about him?"

"Why did you let him leave without someone to protect him?"

Sonny's eyes narrowed. "He didn't tell you that."

"No," Mike admitted, "but he's alone. I saw him. The word on the street is that you and Sorel are about to go to war. You need Jason now more than ever."

Sonny shook his head. "I don't need Jason in the line of fire. He wants to start over, have a family. I refuse to change his mind."

"But he's a target--"

"Mike." Sonny's voice was quietly firm. "Jason is no one's target. He can take care of himself. You don't have to be afraid for him."

The two men stared at each other. Mike seemed to want to argue more so Sonny turned his back on him. He went to the bar and poured a shot of whiskey into a glass and swallowed it in one gulp. He heard Mike move behind him.

"What's with you?"

Sonny's hand trembled as he poured another shot. Drops of whiskey spilled onto the counter. On automatic, he wiped the space dry. He thought about Mike's question. There was time when he wouldn't have blinked when telling Mike to mind his own business. But those times were becoming few and far between. He didn't like to admit it, but Sonny liked knowing that Mike cared enough to ask. Even when Sonny pushed him away, Mike kept coming back. Maybe that was what fatherhood was all about.

"Michael?" Mike prompted.

Sonny released the glass and turned to face his father. "Dara and I were gonna take Hope shopping today."

"What happened?"

"We didn't get to. A car backfired and you can guess the rest."

Mike nodded knowingly. "You thought it was Sorel or somebody like him."

"I threw them to the ground and when it was clear, we came back here. I overreacted."

"No," Mike said with a frown. "You protected them. Is Dara upset by what happened?"

Sonny released a humorless chuckle. "Surprisingly, no. She took it all in stride, but Hope... She's scared of me now. I don't know what to do to fix it."

"You give her time," Mike advised. "This world you live in takes a lot of getting used to. She's young and processing everything that's happened to her these last few days will take some getting used to."

"He's right," Dara said. She had entered the penthouse and neither man had noticed. "Hope needs time."

"How is she?" Sonny asked as he crossed the room to her.

"She's asleep," Dara said. "The shots terrified her. She can't live like this."

"It was a car backfiring," Sonny said, subconsciously defending himself. "No one was taking shots at me."

"Not this time," she replied quietly.

"What did she say?" he asked. "Did she say she doesn't want to be around me anymore?"

Dara shook her head. "No, but... This isn't working, Sonny. She's scared and I don't know what to do to lessen her fears except take her away from here."

"No."

"So you want to have your cake and eat it, too," she muttered. "It doesn't work that way. Hope has been through too much without being scared of being shot at! Think about it from her perspective."

"I am thinking!" he shot back. "I'm thinking that I don't want to miss another moment of being her father! I won't let you shut me out."

"I don't want to," she said with a sigh. "Believe it or not, that's the last thing I want to do."

Her eyes softened and Sonny sensed that she was finally ready to sort everything out. He sighed. It was about time.

"Dara--"

"Excuse me," Mike said with a cough. "I haven't met my granddaughter, yet and I'm dying to. Would you mind if I waited in Jason's penthouse for her to wake up? I promise to mind my p's and q's. Look." He reached inside the bag. "I have a present for her. It's not much, but it's kinda cuddly."

"It's adorable," Dara said. Her gaze lingered on the stuffed Tigger doll before making contact with Mike. She smiled and said, "Thanks. I'm sure she'll like it."

"And you don't mind if I wait over there?"

She shook her head. "Not at all. It may be a long wait, but you're welcome to stay as long as you like."

"Thanks."

Mike left. Sonny folded his arms across his chest and stood in front of Dara. "Are you ready now?" he asked.

She shrugged. "Yeah, let's get it over with and move on."

# # #

Hope woke up alone. She said she'd stay, but she hadn't. Two fat tears rolled down Hope's cheeks before she told herself to snap out of it. They'd left her before. Why wouldn't they do it again? Their promises about wanting to be her parents and being there for her...loving her were just crap.

With crazy ass drivebys threatening her life, she was better off on her own. She was stupid to look for them in the first place. Fairy tales with their happily ever after endings weren't real. Reality was a painful, cold-hearted bitch. Reality was Phil Ramón's hands groping her as she washed up after him and the other little foster kids in his home. Her reality would never be a fancy penthouse and expensive clothes. No matter who her parents were. It was time she faced it.

Hope dried her tears and hopped from the bed. She replaced the pajamas with the clothes she wore when she first got there. After sliding on her sneakers, she headed for the staircase. As she got halfway down, she noticed that she wasn't alone after all. Some guy with blonde, gray curls sat on the sofa. His back was to her, but from the way he was slumped over, Hope knew that he was asleep. Getting past him wouldn't be a problem, but what about the guards?

Damn!

She had forgotten about them. Would she be able to sneak past them? Their beady eyes were always watching and staring. They wouldn't let her go anywhere without him giving the okay.

Argh!

She needed a plan. Turning around, she went back upstairs to her room and closed the door. Pacing, she thought hard. A way out. How? Then, she glanced at the telephone. Maybe her new friend could help her come up with something. He was resourceful enough when those weirdoes were chasing her. And he said he'd see her again... She definitely wouldn't mind seeing him again! Those dark blue eyes didn't look at her like she was a freak. It was like he cared and understood.

Yeah, right. Okay, she thought, maybe he didn't care, but it was possible he would help. Right?

Moving to her bed, she grabbed the phone and sat. After digging inside her pocket for Griffin's business card, she punched in the seven digits. Carmen, the secretary answered.

"Lucky Spencer, please," Hope said.

"One moment please."

Seconds later, he was actually on the phone. "Spencer here."

"Lucky. Hi." To her chagrin, her voice was breathy and silly. She cleared her throat and tried again. "It's me Hope. Got a minute?"

"Sure."

His smile came through in his voice and Hope's agitation lessened. She pressed the phone against her ear.

"I'm surprised you have time to gab on the phone," he said.

"I'm allowed a phone call."

He laughed. "You sound like you're in jail. It can't be that bad."

She swallowed hard. "If I told you it was, what would you do?"

His laughter faded. "Is it? I don't know Dara that well, but Sonny isn't so bad."

"That's what you think," she mumbled. "I don't like it here. Can you help me?"

"Help you?" he repeated. "Help you how? Did you tell them? Hope, I told you before that running away doesn't solve anything. All it can do is get you into trouble."

"If you don't wanna help, just say so," she said. "I'm not staying here."

He sighed. "Let's talk about it. What happened?"

"I got shot at," she answered. "Is that enough for you to help me?"

He was quiet for a moment. Then, he said, "Yeah, that's enough. What do you need me to do?"

"Get me out of here. I'm at the penthouse and the guards are everywhere." Tears stung the back of her eyes. "I just want to go."

"Okay. I'll help you. Just relax."

Lucky suggested a plan to her and she thought it would work. He told her to wait until he got there, just so that she'd be safe. She agreed, but after they hung up, she took off. She was tired of being disappointed and lied to. If she left before he got there, Lucky wouldn't have the opportunity to do either.

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